Why we’re lagging behind when it comes to going organic - by Lucy Mercer
18 September 2019 15:39pm
Organic September is upon us, and The Soil Association is predicting that sales of organic food are set to grow to £2.5bn by 2020. However, although this sounds a lot, it transpires that as a nation, we’re lagging behind others. Organic food and drink is worth only 1.5 per cent of total food sales in the UK, meaning we’re well behind the likes of France (3.5 per cent), Germany (5.1 per cent) and Norway (9.7 per cent).
So why are we so behind the times? To me, it’s not just down to the manufacturers or farmers, supposedly not keeping up with consumer demand. True, there are some meaty statistics to show how many people are buying into organic, as according to the Soil Association, we’re spending £45m on organic food every week. But having spoken to my fellow peers, and from my own experience, I think it’s still an area we need educating on.
Personally, I wouldn’t walk into my local Lidl and insist on choosing all organic produce. Why? In all honesty, it’s the cost that puts me off, and ultimately the weekly food shop does come with a price cap limit. However, I would be more inclined to go organic when it comes to meat, and I think others would agree, as we’ve been exposed to new, shocking stats about where our meat actually comes from.
The Independent revealed recently that the most commonly consumed chicken in the UK is the Ross variety, which has been “genetically bred to grow at a speed so unnatural it is the equivalent to a newborn baby weighing 28 stone by its third birthday”. On the other side, organic farmers often opt for the Hubbard bird, which grows at a much more natural pace and has stronger legs – meaning it can roam for its whole life. Being an animal lover, myself and millions of others I’m sure would be inclined to loosen the purse strings a little where possible, from now knowing such a thing.
It's fair to say we’ve seen some strong cultural shifts which have caused our food choices to change significantly over the years. We’re a lot more aware of the environmental impact caused by food production, as well as the implications on animal welfare and our health. The animal welfare stats have had a desired effect, but clearly, a job still needs to be done to convince people to go organic with both their meat AND fruit and vegetable choices.
Costs are a big hurdle for both the farmer and the consumer. Organic feed prices have gone up by 20%, and organic vegetables can cost as much as three times the price of non-organic vegetables. But I think there could be a big saving grace here, in the form of homegrown food. The Sunday Post revealed a couple of years ago that a third of Brits grow their own food, and it’s becoming even more of an attractive hobby as brands are introducing easy mini gardening products to accommodate even the smallest of homes (and the all-important generation rent). We import 40% of our vegetables and 37% of our fruit from Europe, so if anything, Brexit may give more of us an extra push to jump on the home-growing bandwagon.
Together with providing cost-effective solutions, awareness months like Organic September are vital in educating consumers about the benefits of choosing organic food. Shock tactics do work to some degree, in almost a guilt-tripping sense, but we still need to find a way to make organic food even more attractive to consumers – and a money-saving solution could well be the answer.
It could be getting a host of cool, relevant influencers into gardening to encourage millennials to follow suit, similar to how Black Magic worked with micro influencers Michael Perry and Gothic Gardener to inspire young urban audiences to take up gardening. Or it could be getting supermarkets to reward customers for their organic purchases. Either way, this may be the key to helping us catch up with our European friends.